The Next Superfoods: Traditional Fermented Foods

Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were an inexpensive, yummy superfood? If I could design my own superfood I’d order up something that is tasty, accessible to everyone, full of micronutrients, maybe a little probiotic, and hey, how about some anticancer effects? Well, guess what, lots of traditional fermented foods boast all of these properties.

Recent research has been confirming the health-boosting properties of these often potent, flavorful foods. Various traditional fermented foods have been shown to have anti-tumor, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive, anti-oxidant, digestion supporting, immune boosting, probiotic properties. Powerhouses! Various fermented foods have also been researched for their ability to lower cholesterol, provide immune modulation, influence mental health, reduce risk of dental caries, reduce risk of type II diabetes, inhibit harmful bacteria and inhibit unhelpful fungus.

Just a few examples of traditional fermented foods include:

  • Miso
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi
  • Tempeh
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Natto
  • Pickles
  • Injera
  • Kvass
  • Yogurt
  • Tofu

This is a very short list, considering the hundreds of known traditional fermented foods. You can find a more complete list here.

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Unfortunately, the standard American diet is almost devoid traditional fermented foods, but these superfoods have been a feature of local food communities for thousands of years, on every continent. If you’re lucky enough to have a link to your culinary heritage, get out the old recipe books and see what grandma was fermenting for the family. Chances are it was an important part of keeping the family healthy. For the rest of us, recipes for these traditional fermented foods abound online. Maybe it’s time for a new family tradition?

For some medical conditions, fermented foods can make symptoms worse, so be sure to schedule an appointment to see if traditional fermented foods are right for you, especially if you have digestive symptoms.


 

Recipe: Easy Homemade Sauerkraut

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of cabbage, note the weight at the store
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt for every pound of cabbage

Supplies:

  • One half-gallon jar with a very wide mouth
  • Muddler or a potato masher that will fit through the mouth of the jar
  • Another jar that can fit through the mouth of the half-gallon jar, filled with water and closed with a lid
  • Cloth table napkin or tea towel
  • Rubber band

Process:

Peel and discard any damaged or dry leaves of cabbage. Peel and set aside a few leaves of healthy cabbage. Chop the rest of the cabbage finely and mix it with the salt in a large bowl.

Place 1-2 handfuls of salted cabbage in the bottom of the jar and pound it flat with the masher or muddler. Repeat this process until the cabbage is completely packed into the jar; this should release enough liquid so that the cabbage is submerged.

Cover the top of the shredded cabbage with the reserved cabbage leaves, then place the water-filled jar on top, as a weight to help keep the cabbage submerged.  Press down on the water-filled jar to release any air that is trapped below the leaves.

If the leaves are not submerged you can add a little brine (1 tablespoon of water dissolved in 2 cups of water). It is important that the cabbage be submerged.

Cover this contraption with the cloth and secure with a rubber band to keep flies and dust out. Set in a cool, dry place and check every few days. If
a little mold forms on the surface of the water, it’s ok, just scrape it off and discard it.

The sauerkraut is ready when it is bright and flavorful; this may take 3-6 weeks, depending on your preference and the conditions where you are storing the ferment. If your sauerkraut has become slimy, discolored or has a really foul odor, don’t eat it. Discard it, consult a home fermentation resource and try again.

Good sauerkraut should smell sharp and be a pale yellow, and your body should say “Wow! Yes!” when you taste it. When the sauerkraut is ready, remove it from the large jar and store it in sealable containers in the fridge for up to 6 months.

Katy Morrison, ND, LAc